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DeCock: Expect UNC’s Larry Fedora to keep opening up the playbook

Belk Bowl | UNC Tar Heels (6-6) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) | 3:20 p.m. Dec. 28 (ESPN)

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Old Dominion N Carolina Football
Gerry Broome - AP
UNC has not exactly been shy about opening up the playbook this season. It’s possible, in Larry Fedora’s first bowl game in charge at UNC, the Tar Heels could push that envelope even further against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium.

CHAPEL HILL Of the many trick plays North Carolina ran this season, Eric Ebron has a clear favorite. It was the pass from wide receiver Quinshad Davis to quarterback Marquise Williams for a 29-yard touchdown in the win over Virginia.

“He was just wide open,” Ebron said. “When he caught it, I said, ‘What’s harder: Catching the ball with the crowd screaming or trying to throw one?’ Obviously catching it when you know you’re wide open. So it’s a great feeling to talk to your quarterback about some of the things you do that he doesn’t.”

The Tar Heels have not exactly been shy about opening up the playbook this season. Williams caught a touchdown pass. Receivers Davis and Ryan Switzer both threw touchdown passes – Davis twice. Ebron, Switzer, Davis and T.J. Thorpe all have multiple carries.

It’s possible, in Larry Fedora’s first bowl game in charge at North Carolina, the Tar Heels could push that envelope even further against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

“We’ll just wait and see,” Fedora said. “I like to have some fun. We’ll do some things.”

Fedora certainly has a history of using the time off before the bowl to play mad scientist. In four bowl games in four seasons as head coach at Southern Mississippi, he had more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

In 2009, the Eagles went for two points after all four of their touchdowns, a gambit familiar to North Carolina fans who are used to seeing punter/holder Tommy Hibbard assess the defense on every conversion. “We’d worked on it all the time we had off,” Fedora said after the 42-32 loss to Middle Tennessee State.

A year later, in a loss to Louisville in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, wide receiver Quentin Pierce threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Austin Davis on a reverse pass to take an early 14-point lead before Fedora called for a successful fake punt on fourth-and-4 near midfield in the third quarter. A fake punt a year later against Nevada, in Fedora’s final bowl game before coming to North Carolina, went for 29 yards. Another Pierce pass fell incomplete.

He had weapons then, from a pass-capable receiver like Pierce to kickers and punters prepared to wing the ball around. He has far more weapons now, from return ace Switzer to triple-threat Davis to running back A.J. Blue, a former quarterback who also has thrown a pass this season, and more than enough time to figure out new ways to get them the ball.

Fedora is the first to admit that it’s easy to get carried away scheming during the time off, overwhelming players with too many gimmicks before a bowl game. That’s especially true with this year’s Tar Heels, who have thrived under a simplified offensive scheme. But with offensive coordinator Blake Anderson leaving to become the head coach at Arkansas State, there may be no one around to stop Fedora from working away at the whiteboard.

Which would actually be fine with his players.

“Definitely, I expect us to go out there and have fun,” Ebron said. “There’s nothing more fun than us going out there and running trick plays and doing what we have been doing all season. I definitely expect coach Fedora to think of some master plan and let us go out there and execute.”

As far as the Tar Heels are concerned, the more the better. They have profited from trick plays all season. Why should a bowl game be any different?

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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